“NEVER sit on the confabulator”
Once again, the National Theatre turn to Katie Mitchell to create their festive show and with frequent collaborator Lucy Kirkwood, who wrote and co-devised here, this year sees Hansel and Gretel receive their inimitable treatment. As one would expect from Mitchell, this is an extremely playful and creative take on the tale which starts off with the Brothers Grimm as a vaudevillian double act hunting for elusive stories in the depths of the mysterious Black Forest. When they finally catch one, they pop it into their special confabulating machine and the result is this bewitching production.
Aimed at 7-10 year olds, this is necessarily a rather straight-forward telling of the fairytale of the young brother and sister who are the victims of a vindictive stepmother, abandoned in the forest and left to fend for themselves. They think their dreams have come true when they find refuge in a house constructed of gingerbread and sweets owned by an old lady, but it soon turns out that they pretty much gone from the frying pan and into the fire. But the story has been enhanced: there are additional characters like a euphonium-playing bat called Stuart and a Russian kitchen slave literally chained to the stove, songs by Paul Clark are sprinkled through the narrative and there’s also some sprinkling of a more festive variety.
It is all good fun – the younger members of the audience (and its intended target) were certainly gripped – and intermittently, I really liked it. My favourite moments came from the freewheeling dexterity of the multi-role-playing ensemble and the freestyling interludes away from the main story. Ruby Bentall and Dylan Kennedy aren’t able to do a whole lot of anything but play the roles of Gretel and Hansel fairly straight but around them, Kate Duchêne, Justin Salinger and Amit Shah have a riotously good time playing all the other multiple roles, playing puppet master to various animals and generally having a ball.
Clark’s music has a playful edge to it even if they’re not necessarily the most memorable of songs and Vicki Mortimer (another of the frequent Mitchell collaborators) produces a strongly conceived vibrant design and the way the witch engineers scene changes is cleverly managed. Overall, I think I slightly preferred last year’s Beauty and the Beast but this still makes a strong offering in a crowded festive market.